Tim and Ingrid Bell moved from Lancaster, UK to Auvergne…
They took over the Auberge de Chabanettes which has a long and colourful history, a familiar landmark in this part of rural France for over 150 years. In bygone years, it served as a butchers shop, an abattoir and a petrol station, but never lost the inherent purpose of all inns, to provide good food and lodging for travellers who pass through the region, as well as warm and welcoming place of refreshment for the local community. After a devastating fire in the 1980s, the Auberge was sadly left in ruin for many years until it was completely re-built and renovated in 2004.
I caught up with Tim and Ingrid just as the magnitude of what they’d done was settling on their brows, and the prospect of what needed to be done was a dark cloud probably better ignored for as long as possible. Plans evolved, were re-shaped, re-born, rejected, re-invented, knocked about a bit, re-worked and either given up on, or applied with an eye to taste and quality that can only come from long years in the hotel service industry…and it shows. It almost goes without saying that whatever funds they had when the brainchild was born, were soon metamorphosed into bricks, mortar, furniture, bedding, linen and sundry other furnishings and tasteful bits. Never mind the bank balance; look at the auberge!
Tim, in a moment of reflection told me: ‘It was always going to take something really quite special to tempt me away from the green, lush, dramatic land that I’ve been proud to call home for so long’. What did it for him was the relatively unknown volcanic region of France called the Auvergne. It may even have been me that told Tim about the Auvergne, as I’ve been coming here for years…then again it might be because Ingrid’s parents had recently retired to ‘nearby’ Languedoc, and after 20 years in the UK, for Ingrid the Auvergne was a case of finally going home.
Each year, many people contemplate doing much the same, up-rooting and setting up home in France. In Ingrid, Tim has a French anchor, and that’s sure to make quite a difference, not least when it comes to the morass that is French bureaucracy. The reality is that there are hurdles to overcome, but all you need is the patience to overcome them; it’s no use complaining, get stuck in, red tape can be quite appealing in a masochistic kind of way. The UK’s departure from the EU is certain to throw up yet more hurdles; c’est la vie. But when the dust settles, normality will resume, and the Auvergne can continue its rise in favour with Britain and the rest of Europe.
I have to say that what they have achieved so far is awe-inspiring; the auberge is comfortable, welcoming and a peaceful place to retreat from the brouhaha of modern life. As a base from which to explore this part of the Auvergne it couldn’t be better, and it just goes to show what can be achieved with positive thinking. Tim’s final word on the matter: ‘For us, the Auvergne hasn’t just ticked every box. It’s blown us away in terms of what it can offer, and more importantly…what it can offer discerning tourists of the future’. But you don’t have to take Tim’s word for it; come and see for yourself.